As what appears to be the final week of the Big East as we know it gets underway, Rutgers heads into the nation's capital this weekend to take on first-place Georgetown. Tip-off is at 9 p.m. tonight at the Verizon Center.
At 13-13 overall (4-11 in league play) the Scarlet Knights enter the contest in danger of falling under .500 for the first time since a season-opening loss to St. Peter's University. The Hoyas, meanwhile, sit at 22-4 (12-4 in the Big East) and are ranked seventh nationally.
"Hopefully we have a very energized team with a week off and hopefully we play as hard as we can," Rutgers head coach Mike Rice said.
In the first meeting between these two teams, a 69-63 Georgetown win at the RAC on Feb 9, Hoya forward Otto Porter produced a double-double with 19 points and 14 rebounds. He punctuated that performance by scoring 10 straight points down the stretch, taking over the game and sealing the win.
This season, Porter is averaging 16. 1 points and 7.6 rebounds per contest, and he projects as an NBA lottery pick this June. Defending him will be paramount to the Scarlet Knights' success this evening, but is easier said than done, according to Rice
"I don't know if anybody's prepared for Otto Porter," Rice said. "Ask Jim Boeheim. Ask Kevin Ollie. To me, he's the national player of the year. He's as consistent as anybody's been all year.
"I talked about it the first time…how efficient, how patient he is. You know he's going to try and take over at a time, but he does it with a discipline and a patience that nobody really has in college basketball."
Kadeem Jack played just seven minutes in the first meeting between these two teams, but in the weeks since, the sophomore's play has picked up. His improvement culminated with his first career double-double in last Saturday's 76-72 loss to Providence.
"He's always had energy; it was just maybe misdirected," Rice said. "Now, what we're teaching and what he's practicing is becoming instincts. It's becoming a fundamental part of his game."
For now, Rice intends to continue deploying Jack off the bench to give his team a spark. However, he hinted at the possibility of the 6-foot-8 forward being give opportunities than usual to try and continue his scoring touch.
"Right now, look for him to get 25 to 30 minutes, and even more importantly, 10 to 15 shots," Rice said. "We put some things, some wrinkles in to get him the ball even more. Let's see what he does with them.
Fellow sophomore Derrick Randall also earned praise from Rice for his recent development.
"He's another one who has had a great week of preparation. He's stopped thinking and is just playing," Rice said. "Him and Kadeem are playing their best basketball right now and that's a positive.
As a whole, Rutgers has lost nine of its last 10 games, but Rice continues to stress the positives, saying he's seen individual growth in a multitude of players this year.
Now, the key is harvesting that growth and turning it into wins on the court.
"Again, you see it--and I hate to talk about close, because all anybody cares about is wins and losses--but I have to," Rice said. "I have to go back and look at last year: stats, games. Even having our leading scorer out, we're close. We just have to become more consistent."